Two Spokane generations now have gone to bed without Ed Sharman delivering the sports news to them on television. And the sense of duty he brought behind the scenes to a slew of civic endeavors is never the sort of thing that is broadcast.
This would seem to be the time to point out how understated Ed Sharman’s imprint on his city was, and that’s true. To a point.
He was dignified and utterly lacking in bombast, but understated he was not. The man once took after his own bosses on the air. An institution at KHQ, he left when he felt he was being pressed to perform instead of report. Anyone who shared committee or organizational work with him came away impressed by his attention to detail — and, yes, perhaps frustrated by occasional stubbornness. But a cause — whether it stands for tradition or progress — is a cause.
Any causes will have to go on now without Sharman, who died Monday at the age of 78 from leukemia and ensuing complications.
But the illness that overtook him only revealed more of his pragmatism, especially after initial chemotherapy worsened his condition and he faced his choices.
“He could do nothing and live a year,” said his friend, Mike Senske. “He could have a bone marrow transplant, which if unsuccessful could leave him 3-6 months. The third option was to join a research group.
“He knew he wasn’t going to make it unless the research produced a miracle. But if it didn’t work, he thought it would leave information that would help down the line.”
The Sharman that Spokane knew best, of course, made nightly visits to its living room. But when he joined KHQ straight out of Washington State in 1959 as an announcer — TV and radio, voice-overs, interviews, you name it — he had no notion he’d be a pioneer.
In the early 1960s the station made him Spokane’s first full-time sports director — KREM’s Bill Denton took on an all-sports role around the same time, too — and pretty much let him invent the job. The standard he set was exhausting. He’d schlep a clunky old Bolex from game to practice to cross-country meet, hand-splice the film for his own highlights, put together a Cougar football preview and maybe even a commentary to go with all the scores. No one did it as thoroughly until the team at KXLY hit its stride in the mid-1980s.
“He was the real deal,” said Ira Joe Fisher, Q-6’s popular weatherman of the era and a close friend, “and a one-man band.”
He gave it to viewers straight — no catchphrases, no screaming. That wasn’t his way. So even close friends may be surprised at how willing a participant he could be in station hijinks.
“One night, I was doing the weather and he got down on hands and knees out of camera view and tied my shoelaces together,” Fisher remembered. “I had to hop off the set. Another time, he took this pole the engineers would use to adjust the lights — it was a long hook like in the old vaudeville routines — and reached it out around my neck and pulled me off camera.
“That was the night (station manager) Birney Blair phoned from home and said, ‘You gentleman should wait for me at the station.’ I thought maybe our careers were over.”
There’s some irony, then, that what chased Sharman from the business in 1981 was a resistance to consultant-driven changes that suggested to him dancing bears doing the news. His welcome may have frayed, anyway; a year or so before, he blasted Spokesman-Review management on-air for what he and other readers sensed was a U-turn from local sports coverage. As the paper and Q-6 shared ownership, that was a bit of biting-the-hand.
He went on to work for the Spokane Chamber of Commerce and the Inland Automobile Association, and his volunteer touch was felt on things as diverse as the State B tournament, the Lilac Festival, the old sports banquet, the freeholders’ review of city-county government and the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame, which turned the tables and inducted him in 2005.
And he didn’t just report on sports — though here again, the outcomes could be decidedly, well, un-Ed.
Tom Hodges, the Spokane hockey great, was Sharman’s partner when they took up skiing. After learning to snowplow on Loulou Kneubuhler’s old carpet mountain in town, they tackled 49 Degrees North.
“We’re skiing down No. 2 and we come to the end and there’s a little sharp dropoff there,” Hodges said. “We stopped and looked at it for 5-10 minutes. Finally I thought, hey, I can’t stand here all day, so I battled my way down and went to the clubhouse and waited … and waited and waited. So I get back on the chair lift and ski back down again — and Ed’s still there.”
The guess here is he still looked as upright and dignified as he did on television, even as he shared the laugh with his friend.
“The TV business has changed,” Fisher said. “I don’t think it has the beating heart today that it had. And Ed was one of the beating hearts.”
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